One of my frequent moans on here is how a great many supermarkets manage to suck any last remnants of joy out what can (and should) be a sensory overload of experiential retailing. The ability to touch, taste and smell food and drink really should be an integral part of the shopping experience, but too few grocery retailers do enough to bring the product to life. Sure, plenty stick a paper plate of room temperature cheese and some cocktail sticks on top of the deli counter, but arguably such gestures are inadequate in such a cut-throat competitive environment. The binary choice facing supermarkets at the moment is: Be cheap or be awesome.
There have been some encouraging signs of late. Quite a few retailers I’ve visited in recent months are seemingly putting a lot more welly behind excelling at fresh. Leclerc, Tesco, Carrefour, Walmart and Auchan are a few that spring to mind. One of the more impressive examples, though, has to be the new Waitrose in Wichelstowe, on the outskirts of Swindon.
With sales 50% ahead of budget, the store is clearly going down well with the locals and – with another 4,500 houses due to be built nearby – this initial success looks virtually guaranteed to continue. Waitrose is already getting a lot right. As the fastest-growing supermarket in the UK, it continues to expand steadily through new store openings in both supermarkets and convenience, driving online sales, winning market share from competitors and driving like-for-like sales.
What the store in Wichelstowe represents is a bringing together of some of Waitrose’s core strengths and a showcasing of them in a sleek environment augmented by the savvy implementation of technology. What really sets the store aside, though, is a full acknowledgement that shopping for food and drink can be a thoroughly enjoyable and social experience.
The store kicks off with some nice touches immediately, with an iPad-festooned concierge desk. The concierge desk has free tea, coffee and iced water for myWaitrose card holders. 70% of Waitrose transactions are made by its 4.5m myWaitrose cardholders, so the card proves a valuable source of data and gives opportunities for personalisation and interaction, something that this store does incredibly well.
Next up is juice bar (the retailer’s first), an innovation that Waitrose stated was trading incredibly well. Forgoing my natural tendency to avoid fruit and vegetables like the plague, I partook of some the juice and I suspect that, if you like fruit and vegetables, it would be very nice. Perhaps next time I go, they can liquidize a cheeseburger for me.
Technological initiatives in the store include a smartphone app that uses iBeacon to alert shoppers to price promotions when in the relevant section of the store. It also allows them to scan barcodes and read customer reviews of products, add items to a virtual shopping basket. The app also enables shoppers to summon help and for staff members to see a customer’s history (every staff member has an arm-mounted iPad) when help is asked for. Ultimately, the app will enable punters to pay for their shop via a mobile wallet.
The store includes various tablet stations in seating areas and at service counters, where customers can find out additional information about Waitrose's products and services. There are 11 iPads sited throughout the store, where customers can order food, place orders for entertainment products at the Welcome desk, order celebration cakes and also receive information and advice on health & nutrition. One suspects that, unlike lots of instore tech innovation I come across, what Waitrose has introduced might actually be useful.
E-commerce orders are picked and packed in the warehouse behind the store for home delivery or for click & collect. Customers can pick up their online Waitrose order in the store, and will soon be able to pick up their John Lewis order through click & collect, adding to a trend that sees 60% of John Lewis orders picked up in Waitrose stores.
Aside from all the tech stuff, which really does deserve some plaudits, what really gets the pulse racing is the food and drink offer. The deli grazing area enables shoppers to consume deli food with wine, coffee or soft drinks. This area houses some of the 68 seats for instore consumption (together with 32 outside seats for foodservice). The deli is along the back wall, along with some lovely counters devoted to cheese, fish and meat, all operated with the panache one would expect from Waitrose. The fish counter includes a nice digital screen depicting fishing, lending an already fine counter a touch of theatre.
The store is one of a dozen or so that features the chain’s new bakery concept. The department is such a key one in terms of driving perception, so it is little wonder that Waitrose joins the likes of Tesco in terms of putting some big investment behind it.
The beers, wines & spirits department is definitely a ‘hero category’ for the store, featuring a variety of new fixtures. Some fantastic looking spirits units sit alongside some nifty colour-coded wine shelves, while the wall overlooking the department is dominated by some lofty and striking wine fixtures.
The accompanying wine grazing area – which is an object lesson in terms of design and interactivity in itself – enables shoppers to try wines and beers while consuming deli snacks, cheeses etc. It is one of four such areas in Waitrose’s UK stores and is a marvellous, marvellous thing.
This store represents a real step up for Waitrose, both in terms of the technology that is implemented within it and the levels of interactivity and theatre in its food and drink offer. The tech initiatives – all of which are opt-in for shoppers – combine with the myWaitrose loyalty card and CRM to create more of a seamless multichannel experience as well as enabling improved levels of service and engagement.
The instore grazing areas appear very popular and do much to improve dwell time and spend. The areas put food & drink (and the enjoyment of it) front and centre of the store’s proposition, doing a good job of enhancing the retailer’s credentials in grocery. This blurring of retail and foodservice makes the store a genuine destination and I cannot wait to see aspects of this store being rolled out across the rest of the estate. Genuinely worth a trip.
Store design: 9
Customer service: 9
Private label: 8
Total score: 42